Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Transformed Lives

Every part of Jesus’ life, from his birth to his ascension, impacted lives. Take for example, even as Jesus traveled the Via Dolorosa on the way to the cross, he touched lives. A company of four Roman soldiers was charged with the execution of Jesus. One soldier usually led the way with a placard that described the crime. In Jesus’ case, it read, “JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS” (John 19:19). Jesus was required to carry the crossbeam of his cross, which weighed about 100 pounds. The heavy, single post that would support the crossbeam awaited them at the execution site.

The soldiers soon realized that Jesus was too weak to carry the heavy beam. He had been beaten by Herod’s soldiers and Pilate’s, and in addition his excruciating flogging would have left him barely standing. The soldiers did not want Jesus to die en route to the cross, so they compelled Simon from Cyrene to carry Jesus’ cross (Luke 23:26). Simon was from North Africa (Libya) and most likely came to observe the Passover. While his experience of carrying the cross may have been humiliating and taxing, it was also transforming.

While Matthew and Luke introduce Simon by his name and country of origin, Mark adds some other details, “A certain man from Cyrene, Simon, the father of Alexander and Rufus, was passing by on his way in from the country, and they forced him to carry the cross” (Mark 15:21). It certainly appears that Mark’s naming of Rufus and Alexander is because they are believers. Mark gives the impression he knows Simon, probably because Simon became a follower of Christ. Later, Paul greets Rufus in Romans (16:3). There is a good possibility that Simon’s life was transformed from his contact with Jesus on the way to the cross. Simon’s family followed him in his faith, and they ended up being leaders in the church in Rome.

It most likely started that day when Simon was seized by the Romans to carry Jesus’ cross. He became an eyewitness to everything that happened to Jesus and everything Jesus said. Perhaps he was one of the many witnesses Luke interviewed when he wrote his Gospel. There, as Simon watched the gruesome events of that day unfold—God’s amazing grace was changing Simon.

That day also transformed the Roman officer in charge of the execution. He heard Jesus pray for him and his men, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). He must have wondered how this man could pray that prayer. As Jesus said his last words from the cross, "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit,” the centurion, seeing what had happened, praised God and said, "Surely this was a righteous man" (Luke 23:46-47).

That day two unlikely disciples were made in the most unusual circumstances. They saw in Jesus what they wanted, and they reached out and received his grace. Jesus is still touching people today in the same way.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Commitment to Truth

The Roman governor Pilate declared three times that Jesus was innocent and did not deserve the death penalty. Even the perverse Herod had pronounced him innocent. Pilate hoped he could appease the Jewish leaders by having Jesus beaten and then released. He even offered to release Barabbas, a convicted criminal, but that did not work. Appeasement never works, not in families, schools or in government. Finally, Pilate gave in to the demands of the mob to have Jesus crucified (Luke 23:23-24).

Let us examine why Pilate did what he clearly did not want to do and went against what he believed was right. I observe two primary reasons that motivated Pilate to give in to the demands of the mob and have Jesus killed. First, is the fear of rejection. He feared to be rejected by Caesar. He had already made some mistakes as governor, and he could not afford another one. Human beings fear rejection more than anything else in life. Pilate could not stand the thought of being rejected by Caesar. However, he was ultimately rejected anyway.

Children who grow up not liking themselves have greater difficulty making friends because of their concerns about rejection.  These concerns often trigger self-defensive behaviors that interfere with building meaningful relationships.  Rejection is one of the most difficult human emotions to deal with.  If a child learns how to deal with it early on, they will be miles ahead in preparing for future feelings of rejection.  If they do not, they will be overwhelmed with feelings of inferiority all through life.
Parents, your children will face situations like this where they will be tempted to appease the crowd to gain their acceptance. Having gained that acceptance at the cost of their integrity, they will feel like they have sold their soul.

What they need is the emotional and spiritual strength to be able to stand up against peer pressure and stay faithful to their convictions. They need courage to face the opposition and even the consequences.  In appeasement, we lose our authenticity. Only when we are true to our convictions and beliefs can we hang on to our integrity. If they live in a home where they see their parents demonstrate their own security in Christ, they will embrace it.

The second reason Pilate gave in to the crowd was that he had no commitment to the truth. He didn’t even know what truth was (John 18:38). He would have fit in well in today’s society where people think that truth is whatever you want to make it; there is no such thing as absolute truth. Jesus, however, declared to the world that he is truth (John 14:6).

If I gave you a map to help you get to the St. Louis Arch, or maybe if I helped you use your phone app as a GPS to guide you there, I would be helping to guide you. However, if I said, “I will lead you there, follow me”—then I become your map. Jesus became our map to truth—to God and to heaven. Knowing Jesus is the beginning of having a conviction to the truth. The truth empowers you to overcome the fear of rejection and always do what you know is right even if others don’t think so.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Jesus’ Silence

John the Baptist is one of my favorite Bible characters. I admire him for his courage and boldness and his total abandon from everything so he can live for God. He didn’t care what you thought of him, and yet he was incredibly humble. When people thought he might be the Messiah, he responded that he definitely was not. He wasn’t even worthy to untie the sandal straps of the true Messiah.

John showed his courage when he condemned King Herod for living in adultery. Herod had seduced his brother, Philip’s wife. Her name was Herodias, and she is the epitome of the person who hates and enjoys hating. She held grudges, waiting for the moment to get even. She was a master manipulator, and she wanted John dead, and finally the opportunity came. It was the birthday party of King Herod. At these parties Herod and his guests were accustomed to getting drunk and having X-rated entertainment. Herodias told Herod that she would provide the entertainment for this party. It would be her own daughter Salome.

Mark says that Herod invited all the leading men of Galilee to his banquet (Mark 6:21). Herod was depraved, and his parties were a complete drunken and moral debauchery. Salome gave a sensuous and provocative dance, which when combined with the dullness of the wine, Herod was ready to give away half his kingdom, “Ask me for anything you want, and I'll give it to you” (Mark 6:22). Herod imagined she would ask for jewels or clothes but never for the head of John the Baptist. She asked that it be delivered on a silver platter. It was, and Herod was too proud and too lost to lose face before his guests. That was the day his conscience died.

When you lose your conscience and your desire to live for Jesus, you are in danger of losing all sense of morality. You wind up in places you never dreamed. You find yourself caught in traps that were supposed to only catch other people.

This is exactly what pornography does to men today. It captures them like a giant octopus and tightens its grip around them. Men who are addicted to pornography lose their self-control, their dignity and become the slave of a counterfeit sexuality. The addiction is so strong that it actually controls their thoughts, and they lose self-control. As a result, marriages are broken, families are lost, and lives are squandered by this debauchery. I have heard men say on many occasions, “I know this destroying my life and my family, but I don’t know how to stop.”

What is so mind boggling, is that men are willing to give up everything in the moment, only later to live their lives in total regret. Women, don’t think men are the only ones caught in this web. After all, it is Salome who is the bait the devil uses to lure these depraved men to lust after her body. Women and girls, please have enough grace to know how to dress so that you are not luring a man after your body, but after your heart.

Later at Jesus’ trial, Herod plied Jesus with many questions hoping to see a miracle, but Jesus never answered him. Herod is the only person who received the silence of Jesus (Luke 23:8-9). Herod’s life should give us all pause and make us consider how terrible it is to waste a life. How sad it was to be standing in Jesus’ presence, the Son of God and not recognize it.